Kieran Yap reviews Australia’s record run at the Olympics and sees huge positives in not only the team’s fortunes and future prospects, but in the way they brought fans together and connected with them (8/8/21).
Above: Sam Kerr celebrates her last gasp goal to take the Quarter-Final with Great Britain into Extra Time. Photo: Getty Images.
That was fun. The Matildas made it to a semi-final and were only denied a bronze medal by some suspect added time and the width of the post.
There are things to analyze about the tournament, the team, and the performances.
There are definitely areas that will need to be improved upon by the 2023 World Cup, but putting aside all of the “if-only’s” and “we should have’s” the Tokyo Olympics was a really good time to be a Matildas fan.
Not only was it the best tournament position reached by an Australian women’s team, it was watched by record numbers of viewers. More than one in 12 Australians watched them overcome Great Britain in an epic goal-fest. Millions again tuned in to see Sam Kerr become the greatest goal scorer in Matildas history.
The family-friendly time zones meant that people could watch together, unburned by a 2am alarm or the need to calculate how many hours sleep are needed to survive the next day at work.
Online communities formed, through official and community-formed channels.
Football Australia organized Zoom watch parties and The Matildas Active support held a Twitter Space at half times and pre-game Facebook session.
The Far Post podcast doubled their output to provide information that in an IOC controlled world is nearly impossible to come across and millions of locked-down Australians were given something to look forward to.
The wider Australian public became suddenly familiar with players like Ellie Carpenter that the football fans have been raving about to blank faces for years.
Onto the scene burst Mary Fowler a young striker long proclaimed as the next big thing but due to her short W-League stay and playing in the hardly broadcast French league, she always seemed slightly overhyped despite little evidence to suggest either way.
How good could she possibly be to be worth all the discussion and urge to cap-tie her to Australia? The answer was provided with two touches against Team GB.
First, that touch to control a dropping ball. A mix of instinct, special awareness, and skill allowed her to control it and turn in one touch to face goal.
Then came the finish, it deflected off Lucy Bronze to fly into the net but, here was a young player given a chance to change the game and taking it in spectacular fashion on the big stage.
“How good could she possibly be?” that question is now asked with excitement, not skepticism.
Then there was Sam. After a season of unrelenting pressure with Chelsea, the captain came into the Olympics with no goals in five games.
She insisted she was only focused on the Olympics, that fans needn’t worry, it was all a process that would come together.
Six goals in six games including a last-minute equalizer in the quarter-final have put an end to any doubts about her form.
Are Australia too reliant on Kerr? Perhaps, but her job is to score goals, that is her role in the side, in the same way it is Catley’s to send in crosses or for Hayley Raso to literally roll up her sleeves and terrorize the left flank of the opposition.
Did Australia play well every game? Mostly, did they ever look overawed or nervous? Never.
The players laughed in the tunnels before games, joked after singing the anthem, and posted social media videos of them screaming support for other Olympians.
Tony Gustavsson, a new coach who has yet to set foot in Australia is measured and detailed when he talks to the media.
On match days he celebrated with the emotion of a lifelong fan, running high-fives and screaming into the sky after goals were scored.
They were having the time of their lives and millions of us were along for the ride.
In the end, the team fell short of a medal, they looked devastated but had done themselves and their country proud.
It did hurt to see how happy the Americans were at their medal presentation but that was fleeting and will be soon forgotten.
What will not be forgotten was that in these last few weeks The Matildas gave us reason to believe, a reason to call your friends in lockdown and just scream down the phone, and reason to be excited for the future.
What a tournament, what a team, what a football community.
That was seriously fun.